Title: The Magpie Almanack
Author: Simon Williams
Publisher: Vole (Dempsey and Windle imprint)
Paperback : 100 pages
ISBN-10 : 1913329348
ISBN-13 : 978-1913329341
Reviewer: Mandy Pannett
The Magpie Almanack by Simon Williams is an accomplished, varied collection with a quality of quirkiness that strongly appeals to me. There is a light touch to most of the poems but some are hard hitting – ironic with a sting in the tail – and several are tender and sad.
Titles of poems show a skillful hand: Sir Walter Raleigh’s Cycling Tour of the Americas and Was That Your Arse Sticking Out on Radcliffe and Maconie can’t fail to intrigue. On Hearing a Haddock drew me in and the content did not disappoint. I shall now listen out for the love song of the haddock sounding like a nightjar ‘when the moon is round/and the ocean returns its look.’
One aspect of The Magpie Almanack that particularly appeals to me is a sense of folklore and fairy-tale, of childhood and playground rhymes. Magpie Song, the opening poem, is an example where in the light of ‘silver dust outside my gate’ the poet imagines ‘three dragons flying a kite.’ One of my favourite poems in the collection is The Green Knight’s Green Horse with its feeling of enchantment as the horse tells the tale of its construction, bit by bit, starting with a frame of willow and ‘just one tree to make my heart./Acorns for my eyes, too, and its channelled bark/a saddle he would never fall from.’ Fantastic imagery here.
Then of course there is the entertaining Interview with a Blemmye – a legendary race of headless people whose faces grew in their chests. Not an easy theme to write about, perhaps, but Simon Williams achieves it delightfully, playing around and punning on the idea of heads and no heads. This verse amuses me a lot:
ears in our armpits have always
been a bugbear. We hear well only
when climbing trees, under arrest
or dancing the flamenco.
Narrative is strong throughout the poems with subtle hints of back stories. A highly entertaining example is Emile Deschamps and Monsieur Fontgibu where an anecdote about encounters to do with plums and a stranger is turned around in the next poem where the stranger retaliates and speaks out for himself, telling his own version.
Everyone will have their own favourite poems in a collection, some lines that amuse or bring back a memory, something poignant or controversial, a thought that makes us think. I am particularly taken with several poems in The Magpie Almanack – Knapping, Slingshot Bullets and We Need to Talk About Nean come to mind. My favourite, though, has to be The Sitar Player where the focus, to begin with, is on ‘the bearded man with an Aussie hat’ who plays riffs ‘as though they’d surfed in/through his fingers’ but then shifts to the small falcon which, on a hot day, needs to be sprayed with an atomiser ‘so drops of water/shined on its feathers, as it cooled.’ An image, among many, to remember. SLQ